Music Review 001

Ave Maria

Search for Ave Maria, and you’ll encounter a sea of interpretations, but I keep coming back to Marian Anderson’s simple, piercing, and powerful rendition. The instrumentation is kept simple, allowing her impressive voice to ring clearly. The recording is old, but I haven’t found anyone yet that can top this sound.

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Die Ruinen von Athen, Op. 113

Heifetz at his most romantic — quixotic cantabile, effortless transversing, and whimsy to the brim. A delightful rendition of a stout Beethoven march.


Bach Partitas for Piano, BWV 825–830

I’ve been listening to many pre-Gould Bach recordings from the masters of piano playing, and I’ve really begun to appreciate what a profound effect he has had on the performance and understanding of Bach’s music. These older performers treated baroque music differently, but Gould did something with Bach that liberated it from anything before. And it hasn’t been the same since.

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Mozart Piano Concerto, No. 24

This is one of Mozart’s darkest piano concertos: mysterious and unctuous. The cadenzas are all over the map from pianist to pianist, and I couldn’t really find one that felt very Mozartian — Murray Perahia, Paul Badura-Skoda, Glenn Gould, Daniel Barenboim, Malcom Bilson, and Robert Casadesus perform fine cadenzas.

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Beethoven Piano Pieces on Fortepiano

You really forget how some famous classical music pieces sounded like until you hear them on period instruments the composer actually used. The sound decay is so rapid on this fortepiano that the texture of notes in the Beethoven sonata is much clearer than renditions played on modern pianos. For example, the bass line comes off as much more pulsating and urgent rather than thundering and washy in modern-piano recordings.

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Leopold Godowsky Cadenzas for Mozart

The Godowsky cadenzas are marvelous interruptions of these Mozart piano concertos. While stylistically they’re too dissimilar to feel integrated into the music, they are nonetheless beautiful and can be listened to over and over again to find new surprises and counterpoint. You can see why even great pianists find Godowsky’s music to be almost unplayable in its sumptuous complexity.

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Improvisation in Mozart

More and more research is pointing to the varied and improvisatory performance style of classical music — especially that of Mozart. It helps to dismantle the urtext aura of the official, printed music. Robert Levin provides exemplary research on the playing style of Mozart. Mozart played freely, in part enabled by his tremendous genius, in part because of performance practices of the time. For example, at the time, singers were expected to improvise passages of music in a single breadth. Likewise, Mozart would improvise throughout his pieces in short quick passages. He was a lover of singers and took inspiration from them.